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FEATURE | ‘Oscar Peterson: Black + White’ Gives A Canadian Treasure His Place In History

‘Oscar Peterson: Black + White’ (Image courtesy of TIFF)“I am a jazz pianist, that’s all I want to be,” says Oscar Peterson in director Barry Avrich’s new documentary, an unabashed love letter to the Canadian pianist and jazz great.It’s a simple statement, and low key in a typically Canadian way. It’s the more regrettable Canadian penchant for failing to elevate our heroes that drove Avrich to create Oscar Peterson: Black + White, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12.“You can’t be a superstar and stay in Canada,” Avrich notes. “Those that stayed paid a price. They weren’t global superstars in the minds of Canadians because they live here.”Avrich describes growing up in Montreal in a household where one of the essential records was a Peterson release. His mother took him to live concerts as Place des Arts, where he saw many great artists play. “Including Oscar Peterson, who was from Montreal — nobody knew that,” he says.‘Oscar Peterson: Black + White’ (Image courtesy of TIFF)Those dazzling hands“What inspired the project?” Avrich asks. “One is that, I never forgot about Oscar Peterson.”In the years since his death in 2007, it’s been easy to forget just how dazzling Oscar’s playing style was. The film redresses that situation with a steady stream of both his music and clips of him playing. Those hands fly up and down the entire length of the keyboard with an ease that’s jaw dropping at times.Indeed, as Billy Joel relates, the first time he heard Oscar on a record, he was convinced there were two guys playing.Joel is just one of the many music and jazz greats who appear in the documentary to talk about Oscar and his music. That roster includes Herbie Hancock, Oscar winner Jon Batiste (another jazz cat who credits a classical music foundation), and fellow pianist Ramsey Lewis, who says at one point that Oscar, “frightened the hell out of people, pianistically.”Along with archival footage, the doc includes contemporary performances by Measha Brueggergosman, Joe Sealy, pianist Robi Botos, and bassist Dave Young, among others.As it turns out, the pandemic, which grounded the tours of many artists, made putting the film together a little easier. “Getting musicians together to do that concert,” Avrich says, “to be able to get the cast we did, people were not touring. To have them available was a coup.”His meteoric rise from the working class streets of east Montreal to jazz stages by the time he was a teenager is documented. Oscar himself credits a classical music foundation for giving him that dizzying technical facility, and his classical music teacher for being the first person who made him believe he could do something with his talent.‘Oscar Peterson: Black + White’ (Image courtesy of TIFF)A generous musicalityLater, the movie charts his run to international fame, and a life of largely touring the world for many years. It saw him through three divorces and several children, as the doc notes. One section of the movie deals with Oscar’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement, and some of his experiences travelling through the American South during the 1950s and 1960s. The last segments deal with his later life, including happy final marriage to Kelly, (who appears in the movie), stroke, and incredible ability to play after it, even with an impaired left hand.“The most amazing thing about his music that I discovered through making this documentary was his generosity,” says Avrich. “It might have been in his DNA.”Through interviews, archival footage, and commentary, a portrait of the man emerges. He seems to have genuinely been that affable giant we’d see on stage and in footage, always smiling. Oscar’s musical generosity also comes through the interviews. Unlike with many other bandleaders, Peterson allowed each member of his various ensembles over the decades to shine, and even after years on the road, they remained good friends. That’s not so typical in the upper echelons of the music biz.[embedded content]Despite the obvious need for recognition of Oscar in the form of a documentary film, it wasn’t an easy sell. “Everybody looks at these documentaries for the drama,” Avrich says. “There’s nothing here — no ‘needle in the arm’. This isn’t R. Kelly or Phil Spectre. People tend to gravitate to that headline.”Oscar’s story, in contrast, is one of warmth and appreciation.For filmmaker Avrich, the timing of the project echoes a journey back to jazz several years earlier. “I was introduced to jazz early on through those records, but I never really appreciated the composition,” he says. After a brief infatuation with classic rock, he found himself in the now closed Sam the Record Man in Toronto one day, and rediscovered the music in the process. “I got lost in that music again,” he says. It makes the project personal. “It means a lot to me.”He’s hoping fellow Canadians will, just as the film does, put Oscar Peterson on the pedestal he deserves.Oscar Peterson: Black + White will be released in Toronto, Montreal and other cities in Cineplex cinemas on Sept. 18, and will be available to stream on CRAVE starting on Oct. 22.#LUDWIGVANGet the daily arts news straight to your inbox.Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE. Anya Wassenberg is a Senior Writer and Digital Content Editor at Ludwig Van. She is an experienced freelance writer, blogger and writing instructor with OntarioLearn.Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see all) Anya Wassenberg is a Senior Writer and Digital Content Editor at Ludwig Van. She is an experienced freelance writer, blogger and writing instructor with OntarioLearn.Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see all)

THE SCOOP | Assoc. For Opera in Canada Puts Out Call For Opera Hopefuls

Association for Opera in Canada has launched the second iteration of the RBC Artist Fellowship. Running October 2021 – April 2022, the program is designed to boost the careers of the next generation of artists in opera.The program is aimed at early-career artists, and artists currently enrolled in opera training programs.DetailsThe Fellowship will identify exceptional Canadian early-career artists in all facets of operaThey’ll participate in mentorship, group workshops and training sessionsTo help understand personal needs, goals, and development, they’ll also work with professional life coachesThe Fellowship program is designed and led by portfolio artist and AOC’s Programs Associate, Jaclyn GrossmanLast year’s fellowship cohort included 16 artists.Applications are invited to apply by October 4, 2021. More details [HERE].#LUDWIGVANGet the daily arts news straight to your inbox.Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE. Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all) Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all)

CRITIC’S PICKS | Classical Events You Absolutely Need To See This Week: Sept. 13–19

Classical music and opera events for the week of Sept. 13–19.This is a list of amazing concerts we are attending, wishing we could attend, or thinking about attending between September 13–19, 2021. For more details on what’s happening from our trusted partners, visit our calendar here.Toronto International Film Festival | Oscar Peterson: Black + White📅 Monday — September 13, 2021, 5 PM EST📍 LINK💸 $19TIFF is taking over Toronto this week with its Hollywood North glitz and glamour. There is one film, in particular, that’s on our radar: Oscar Peterson: Black + White. Director Barry Avrich brings a new in-depth documentary of personal and professional life. Streaming online, this film is a must for any jazz fan. | DetailsSmall World Music | Andrew Kay & Ravi Naimpally (online)📅 Monday — September 13, 2021, 7 PM EST📍 LINK💸 Free!This concert (recorded live at the Small World Centre) is part of 25 for 25 — Small World Music’s 25th Anniversary Program which runs through Sept 19. This concert immerses you in Indian Classical Music with a Jugalbandi (duet) by the outstanding performers. Abbas Janmohammed (Sarangi) and Andrew Kay (Saxophone & Himalayan Singing Bowls) perform alongside Pankaj Mishra (Sarangi) and Andrew Kay (Saxophone & Himalayan Singing Bowls) (Tabla). | DetailsBerlin Philharmoniker | Musikfest Berlin: Justin Doyle, Rias Kammerchor And Kammerakademie Potsdam (online)📅 Wednesday — September 15, 2021, 3 PM EST📍 LINK💸 SubscriptionLooking for some deep cuts? European-based conductor Justin Doyle has a unique taste for the extremes of Renaissance and contemporary music. RIAS Kammerchor places the excerpts from “Lamentationes” — the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah — at the centre of this concert. Various settings of the impressive text from the Old Testament will be heard, from music by the great masters of the Renaissance to Igor Stravinsky’s Threni. This event streams on the Berlin Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall platform, which requires a subscription. | DetailsHamilton Philharmonic Orchestra | The Joy Of Beethoven (in-person)📅 Friday — September 17, 2021, 7:30 PM EST📍 LINK💸 $30While Ontario is still limiting public events due to the pandemic, orchestras like the Hamilton Phil have been extra imaginative in programming smaller chamber music concerts around the community. Tonight, we recommend coming down to the Royal Botanical Gardens in the hamlet of Waterdown. You’ll see violinist Stephen Sitarski lead a string quartet in a program of Beethoven, Grieg and Musgrave. It’s a beautiful space, so come early to have a tour. | DetailsWestben | Sounds in Nature — Andy Thompson Sound Installation (in-person)📅 Saturday — September 18, 2021, 10 AM EST (repeats Sept 25)📍 LINK💸 $45If you’re open for a weekend trip, we recommend Wesben for their annual Festival that has opened this week. You can start with a trip out to Mary West Nature Reserve just outside of Westben for a guided sound installation by Northumberland Music Studio owner and Westben Sound Engineer Andy Thompson. Once you’re done, stay and take in a concert or two from Leahy (2 p.m.), and Laila Biali (7 p.m.) | DetailsNational Arts Centre Orchestra | Ehnes and Beethoven’s Fifth (online & in-person)📅 Saturday — September 18, 2021, 6 PM EST📍 LINK💸 $15Iconic as it is, it’s not the Beethoven we’re that caught our eye. It’s violinist James Ehnes and the other works on the bill that make this concert worth seeing. Canadian songwriter and composer Sarah Slean has a new arrangement of Lili Boulanger Nocturne for Violin and Orchestra. Jessie Montgomery’s Strum for string orchestra borrows from American folk idioms to create a nostalgic narrative that turns to a colourful celebration. Ehnes closes the program with Sarasate’s classic Zigeunerweisen. You can catch it live online or in-person. | DetailsSweetWater Music Festival | Saturday Night Mainstage (online)📅 Saturday — September 18, 2021, 7 PM EST📍 LINK💸 $10 (online) $45 (in-person)The Sweetwater Music Festival (Sept 16-19) runs this week with a small but worthwhile four days of chamber music running both in-person and online. We recommend checking out the Saturday night mainstage event with Barber and Faure performed by Philip Chiu, Rosebud String Quartet, Julie Hereish, Edwin Huizinga. | Details#LUDWIGVANGet the daily arts news straight to your inbox.Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE. Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all) Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all)

FEATURE | TIFF Doc ‘Listening To Kenny G’ Asks The Question: What Is Good Music?

‘Listening to Kenny G’ (Image courtesy of TIFF)As Listening to Kenny G opens, filmmaker Penny Lane notes that the saxophonist is the best-selling instrumentalist of all time.“I made this film to find out why this makes certain people very angry,” she adds.You’re either fan or foe of Kenneth Bruce Gorelick and his music, but anyone living in North America, or China for that matter, over the last three decades or so has undoubtedly heard it. The film makes that point by showing it playing in shopping malls as well as in concert, and as the daily signal to leave work in Shanghai—but also during weddings and many people’s other special moments in life.Smiling through every interview, and unshakably upbeat in his approach, Kenny frequently runs through (intentionally) impressive runs on his saxophones during his interview segments. He’s good, and he wants to tell you about it. There’s no doubt he has the chops, and he continues to practice three hours daily even at this stage of his career.Is it good? Is it jazz?Despite his obvious musicianship, it’s the style that grates with some critics. He’s gotten many, many disparaging reviews, and the film shows a sampling. He’s also sold upwards of 75 million records.It’s the same kind of furor that classical music purists exude at the mention of Lang Lang, whose flamboyant style and highly successful commercialized approach to releasing and presenting his music have led to much pearl clutching.But, what’s the accusation, exactly?In the case of Kenny G, the accusation amounts to a down-dumbing of jazz, a notoriously esoteric genre of music, for the masses. He’s easy listening, adult contemporary—even RnB in his early releases from his debut in 1986. But, jazz…?What, though, as Kenny himself asks in the doc, is wrong with music that’s easy to listen to? And, all those jazz festivals he’s played at would tend to reinforce his cred.His sound is soothing, perfect for office environments and those drive-home radio shows where it first became hugely popular. Musically, there are no hard edges or high drama.At one point, one of the critics featured in the film mentions that his music “isn’t against anything”, and that’s one of its characteristics. It takes no stance on social or any other issues, and offers only his signature soothing strains of smooth jazz, a genre that was essentially coined based on his popularity.Kenny touches on his style when talking about a new release of original works he’s calling “new standards”, instead of the usual jazz standards he says he has no interest in. It’s a new direction in his career that circles back stylistically to the traditional jazz he started with as a precociously gifted teenager.After coming up with the melodies, he works with an arranger to develop the chords for his compositions. This time out, he says he’s asking for darker jazz chords.‘Listening to Kenny G’ (Image courtesy of TIFF)I’m a sound“I don’t think I’m a personality to people,” he says. “I’m a sound.”The doc does a good job of portraying Kenny as a musician and professional, from his start as the superstar of his high school jazz band, gigging in his teens, and then the various professional connections that would make his career hit the rights notes at seemingly exactly the right time.Lane doesn’t shy from the bad reviews, or even the famous 2000 rant by jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, who was incensed at the idea of Kenny G playing that posthumous duet with Louis Armstrong.Early in the movie, a series of film critics and experts, including The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff, PopMatters’ Will Layman, and professors from Columbia and Bard, are shown one by one. As Lane begins to play in unmistakable strains of Kenny G’s sax, each of them smiles, then squirms a little as they try to find the words to reply on camera. It’s a funny way to visualize their dilemma. “It’s just wallpaper,” one says. “I’m better than that!”Later, they outline the jazz genre controversy. Jazz is an idiom where performers connect to the history of the music, similar to the way the classical music repertoire is acknowledged by all classical musicians. Jazz also a musical history profoundly connected with Black artists and even the Civil Rights movement.Kenny G, not so much.Jazz is about improvisation, and organic interplay between the musicians. Kenny G’s music is instead structured like pop music, where he’s the one star and focal point, and the rest of the ensemble exists to make him sound good. The sax is mixed like the vocals typically are— right up front.As for his personal life, or any glimpse at an identity beyond the perennially smiling musician, his two sons are shown, but there is no hint of any other side to him. He doesn’t even seem to like listening to music—only performing.[embedded content]Kenny doesn’t care about the criticsFans of his music don’t have to worry about Kenny’s reaction to the critics. With his sales, and a newfound resurgence of fame via social media and collaborations with the likes of Kanye West, it’s not hard to see where the unflappable smile and disinterest in any and all naysaying come from.Kenny is also unapologetic about a recording process that sees him overdub every line of music repeatedly to his notion of perfection.Pat Metheny notwithstanding, in the spirit of his new musical direction, he’s planning another posthumous duet, this one with Stan Getz.And, he’s not done yet. He mentions toying with the idea of writing classical music, and says he has a piece on the backburner he’s (unironically) sure will win an Oscar one day. As portrayed in the doc, he doesn’t seem to have known a moment’s insecurity in his life.No matter what the quibbles are about genre, as one of the critics mentions, those multi-multi-million sales, all those weddings—that level of musical love has its own kind of power.If the masses love it, can it possibly be real?Kenny G certainly thinks so.The movie plays on TIFF Digital on September 18, and is planned for release on HBO later this year.#LUDWIGVANGet the daily arts news straight to your inbox.Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE. Anya Wassenberg is a Senior Writer and Digital Content Editor at Ludwig Van. She is an experienced freelance writer, blogger and writing instructor with OntarioLearn.Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see all) Anya Wassenberg is a Senior Writer and Digital Content Editor at Ludwig Van. She is an experienced freelance writer, blogger and writing instructor with OntarioLearn.Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see all)

THE SCOOP | Pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico Named To Royal Society of Canada

Christina Petrowska Quilco (Photo: Bo Huang)Congrats to Toronto-based pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico this week on being named Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.The award for career achievement is Canada’s “highest honour an individual can achieve in the Arts, Social Sciences and Sciences.”This is the fourth honour Petrowska Quilico has received within the past year.In November 2020, she was appointed to the Order of Canada, “for her celebrated career as a classical and contemporary pianist and for championing Canadian music.”  This past spring, York University, where she is Professor of Musicology and Piano, announced her as one of York U’s esteemed Research Awards winners.  As well, CBC Radio 2 named her to the “In Concert Hall of Fame”, celebrating the greatest Canadian classical musicians of all time, past and present.#LUDWIGVANGet the daily arts news straight to your inbox.Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE. Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all) Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all)